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Helping Kids Deal with Poor Handwriting

Have you been giving enough attention to your child’s handwriting skills? Yes, it may seem almost a redundant issue to some but unfortunately, not all youngsters these days take to the pen or pencil that easily, especially when a large part of their studies involve the use of a computer, where typing skills are required and not actual writing. If you are a parent who still deem it quite necessary to have decent handwriting skills, read on…

Does this fast-diminishing skill still matter?

While handwriting may seem to be heading for extinction soon, there are enough studies to prove that this is one skill you won’t want your kids to give a miss. For instance, a study was carried out in 1012 by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, where children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The study revealed what they needed to know. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex. By contrast however, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker!

In another study by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, it was successfully demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. Brain imaging in the older subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

In yet another study on the importance of handwriting skills in children, psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. The latest findings in research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

Handwriting issues in kids

Like everything else that takes practice, writing can be quite a chore and a bore to many kids. Picture this: You’re a kid. You’re trying to put your thoughts to paper and you just can’t seem to get it right. You can’t seem to keep it neat either. You constantly hear your teacher and/or your parent complaining that they can’t read your messy work but you are trying your best. Sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it?

With handwriting, one’s body and mind need to do many different things all together and in the right order. Your wrist and elbow move in just the right way while your eyes have to follow what your hand is doing. If that’s not enough, you’ll need the brainpower to know how words and letters are supposed to look and make decisions about what you want to write!

So with all that going on, you can imagine that different kids have different problems when it comes to handwriting. It may be problems in focusing, short attention span, boredom, inability to control one’s muscle movement well, etc… They might write too fast or start answering a question and forget to finish it.

Well, if any of the above applies to your child, or you would simply like to help junior improve his or her handwriting skills, here are some useful tips you could do with.

Help get that grip right!

Try holding your pencil at the top near the eraser and try to write something down. Difficult, isn’t it? Try holding a pencil the correct way though, and you’ll find that writing becomes a whole lot easier. So, coach your kid on how to hold his or her pencil correctly. The best way to hold a pen or pencil is to let it rest next to the base of your thumb. Get junior to hold it in place with the thumb, the index and middle fingers.

Let the lines be a guide

Lined paper is a kid’s best friend when practicing handwriting is concerned. Those lines can help create letters that are the right size and proportion. Proportion means that one thing is the right size compared with the other. For example, a lowercase “a” should be half the height of a capital “A.”

Ensure that junior fills up the lined space completely. Those capital letters should stretch from the bottom line to the top one. Lines also can keep words written straight instead of uphill or downhill. In the absence of lines, especially for beginners, writing becomes more difficult than necessary, so do let junior practice on lined exercise books.

Slowing down

If your kid’s writing seems messy, hard to read or there is a lot of erasing going on, try getting him or her to slow down the pace. For some kids, going slower solves the problem. Rushing makes it difficult to control where to stop and start letters, and one might end up making more mistakes.

Less pressure, please (on the paper, that is!)

Some young kids, especially beginners, press down really hard when they write. That makes it harder to make the smooth lines needed for decent handwriting. Teach your child how to ease up, don’t grip the pencil as tightly, and let the pencil mark the paper without going all the way through. Fewer pencil points will end up broken too.

Troubleshooting a problem

Common handwriting problems lie in four main areas: letter formation, sizing, spaces between words, and line-alignment. Focus your child’s practice on the issue or concept that challenges him/her the most and remember to offer enough encouragement (and praises!).

Write, write, everywhere!

Writing does not have to be practiced only on paper! Let a foggy mirror, the sand on the beach, or leftover gravy on a plate be unusual surfaces to practice some handwriting. Whether your child’s practicing with his fingers, a stick, or a pencil, inspiring some creativity will lend appeal to writing.

Using those muscles correctly

In order to develop the physical requirements of writing — holding a pencil correctly, posture, control, dexterity, coordination — the more time your child spends manipulating objects, the better. Even using silverware can help him develop his fine-motor skills.

Make Practicing Fun

Make fun and visually appealing writing tools available for your child to help make writing a fun and enjoyable experience! You can also offer books with fun puzzles such as word games, etc…. These work in multiple levels to improve both motor skills and also brain development as well.


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